Our Jobs In Games special, in association with OPM, explores the many paths games industry career – even if you're starting from scratch.
Square Enix's Ben Bateman champions the benefits of starting at the bottom – a decision that led him from games testing and QA to Online Content Producer, with stints at Sega, Realtime Worlds and Codemasters along the way.
No Experience? No Qualifications? No problem!
by Ben Bateman, Square Enix
If MCV’s Jobs In Games series has taught us one thing, it’s that there’s a wide spectrum of disciplines to fill for talented hopefuls looking to break into the games industry.
But what if you don’t have the experience, the references, or the qualifications in, well, anything? Well, that’s exactly the situation I found myself in three and a half years ago.
When you look at the harsh reality of it, the ‘easiest’ place to get started is at the bottom. The prospect of climbing the corporate ladder from the ground-up might seem daunting but with the rising cost of further education it actually offers a cheaper and equally educational alternative.
Applying to be a tester, tea-maker or general dogsbody gives you the advantage of not needing a flashy CV. That’s not to say getting your foot in the door will be easy (a resumé should still draw on your skills and personal qualities) but with any luck you will get that all important interview. As long as you’re enthusiastic, know your games and can work in a team, getting that first job doesn’t have to be a Goliath undertaking.
With no real qualifications I started like many in QA at a publisher. With a naturally high staff turnover rate to complement the ebb and flow of games development it meant that periodically they had an excess of jobs. It’s easy to dismiss being a tester as the joyless repetitive motions of ‘playing’ broken games in exchange for food (and often it is), but the truth is that it was a great way to familiarise myself with the inner mechanics of the games industry.
For me, the most important decision early on in my career was moving from a publisher to a developer. It provided an environment where it was easier to establish a close relationship with your colleagues and give yourself more opportunities to learn other areas of the business. When I worked at Realtime Worlds, many of the QA guys were given the chance to shadow members of the team and contribute to areas that interested them. Aspiring artists offered up new concepts, wannabe designers, scripted missions, and it wasn’t just limited to the development side of the business either.
While learning on the job and getting professional feedback from a mentor was incredibly valuable, what really helped was networking. It’s not rocket science – meeting and talking to people has always been important. Whether it’s just going out for drinks with some of the dev team (never say no!) or helping the company out at events, networking is vital.
Making that first jump from QA to a new role within Realtime Worlds (in my case Community) was made all the more easier thanks to knowing the team. The industry in many respects is quite small and the people you work with today might be the people referring you for your jobs later. Once I’d made it out of QA, the ball started rolling. It was easier to gain experience and build a reputation so I could move onto better jobs at bigger companies.
Starting from the bottom might not sound glamorous but take one look at the games industry and there are plenty of people who have come from similar backgrounds. If traditional academic routes aren’t for you or you’re unsure what you want to do exactly, it’s a perfect way in to get a foothold and start exploring the possibilities.